Visual variety, creative connectedness

Living

‘The Queen’s Gambit’, by Bryan Gerard Duffy

Custom House Studios Gallery reopens with diverse group show by Mayo artists

Ciara Moynihan

It’s the day after the latest easing of Government restrictions. Suddenly, county borders are no longer barriers, and salon scissors, clippers and hair dryers are doing overtime. In another massively welcome development, galleries, museums, libraries and other cultural attractions have also been given the green light. Yesterday, they started throwing open their doors to stimulus-starved visitors – at last, something to do!
In Westport, the Custom House Studios Gallery reopened with an exciting group exhibition of artists working at the venerable venue.
The show features paintings and printmaking from nine Mayo or Mayo-based artists – Tom Brawn, Kate Cuddy, Bryan Gerard Duffy, Pauline Garavan, Genevieve King, Maggie Morrission, Susie Quinn, Benita Stoney, Ian Wieczorek. Each of these artists has their own unique style and focus, making for a wonderfully diverse and engaging exhibition.
Participating artists
Westport artist Tom Brawn is known to many locally as a talented and creative florist. In his pieces in this exhibition, he explores past and contemporary concepts of the radicant – a plant that grows and is sustained by many new roots. His work is also informed by the idea of the immigrant, the exile and the global traveler as culture maker, using the ‘radicant philosophy’ to explore perceived and actual realities, hidden and imperceptible truths. “In my work as a florist, I create atmospheres that subtly change perceptions, and this is what informs my artwork too,” the artist explains. “Using architectural context and human relational activity, I create ‘other’ social and psychological spaces where subtle change can take place.”
Fellow exhibitor Kate Cuddy is a Mayo-based painter inspired by the energy of the Atlantic coast and how it shapes and manipulates the local landscape. She is particularly drawn to the effects of a coastal climate and the passage of time on objects, expressing their richness of line, texture and colour through the medium of oil and mixed media.
Bryan Gerard Duffy is a multidisciplinary artist working in sculpture, painting, photography, film, and installation. A Castlebar native, Duffy graduated from NCAD, Dublin, in 2009. His previous work has investigated notions of displacement, and has taken him to England, Spain, Serbia, Kenya, Belarus, Western Sahara and the West Bank.
Acclaimed Irish contemporary artist Alice Maher has praised Duffy’s work, saying his ‘playful attitude to materials and situations counterbalances a very serious social conscience and political intent’, noting that he has explored such themes as ‘post-colonialism, media, cultural appropriation, and social, individual and collective responsibilities’.
Pauline Garavan’s practice is based primarily in paint and some small-scale sculpture. She has shown her work in many solo exhibitions, including one scheduled to take place later this year at the Custom House.
Many in Westport will fondly remember Garavan’s stunning artwork ‘Shackleton’s Endurance’, which hung in Westport Town Hall Theatre in 2017 before taking up residency in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. In 2013, she exhibited a collection of painting, drawing and sculpture in Westport entitled ‘Rusting Roofs’, a captivating and detailed study of texture, colour and shape focusing on the rusted galvanised roofs of sheds and long-abandoned dwellings that are so familiar in landscape of the west. Her work is held in public and private collections in Ireland, the UK, and the United States. Later this year she is scheduled to travel to Krems in Austria, to take up a one month residency.
Mixed-media artist Genevieve King is based in Ballinrobe, and is a masters graduate of the National College of Art and Design Ireland, obtaining honours qualifications in textiles and specialising in experimental embroidery. Aside from creating her own work, she also has over 20 years experience teaching art at second and third level.
King’s work focuses mostly the landscapes of the west of Ireland, using a range of textiles to create sumptuous, often dramatic vistas that skilfully capture light-play and convey movement and life. Her art can be found in many private collections, including Mayo County Council’s permanent collection.
Achill-based Maggie Morrison has studied at the National College of Art in Dublin and at the University of Southern Illinois. She has exhibited her work widely in various venues, including the Rubicon Gallery in Dublin, The Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar, the Crawford Gallery in Cork, the Buter Gallery in Kilkenny and the Royal Hibernian Academy. Her art is informed by her surroundings on the western seaboard, and she has received many awards for her striking contemporary work.
Susie Quinn, who lives in Kilmeena, is an artist working through many mediums, mainly  printmaking, using both intaglio and relief printing processes. Her approach is both traditional and experimental. She works both from her studio and the print room in the Custom House Studios. Her work has been shown widely throughout the county, from Ballycroy National Park Visitor Centre to Ballina Arts Centre and the National Museum of Country Life. Her work has also been exhibited at The Model, Sligo, and in Italy, at the Roccartgallery in Florence.
Newport-based Benita Stoney is an award-winning portrait artist, who often renders her subjects in egg tempera. This once-traditional fast-drying medium consists of coloured pigment mixed with a water-soluble binder medium (usually a glutinous material such as egg yolk). Stoney builds up many layers of paint in the thinnest of glazes. It is a very slow process, taking many weeks. Tempera paintings are extremely long lasting, with examples from the 1st century still in existence.
Since graduating from GMIT, her work has been shown in the Royal Hibernian Academy, the National Gallery of Ireland, and the National Portrait Gallery in London. Her self-portrait is in the National Self Portrait Collection, University of Limerick.
Last, but certainly not least, is Ian Wieczorek, a visual artist working in painting, video and installation. Since 2003, he has exhibited widely both in Ireland and internationally, with participation in group/curated shows in Northern Ireland, Germany, France, Portugal, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, the US and China, as well as solo exhibitions in Ireland, Northern Ireland, UK and Czech Republic.
His most recent show, ‘One Day: 40 Sunrises’, is comprised of atmospheric oil paintings that present the experience of sunrise on one particular day in various locations throughout the world, as experienced live through live webcams that stream to the internet. A selection from this show can now be seen at this newly opened Custom House exhibition.

Tough year
It’s been a hard year and a bit, in which many of us have been forced to look at our own four walls day in day out. Perhaps we have learned to value new experiences, other perspectives and visual variety a little more.
Our galleries and cultural institutions have had such a difficult time, let’s support them by visiting them. And let’s remind ourselves of the importance of experiencing creativity, of the value of its ability to transport us away from the everyday, or indeed see it anew, while all the while reminding us how we are all connected.

The Custom House Studios Gallery, The Quay, Westport, is open Monday to Friday, 10am to 4.30pm, and weekends and bank holidays from 1pm to 4.30pm. For more information, call 098 28735 or visit www.customhousestudios.ie.